2 Timothy 2:2 is one of the most quoted verses in regard to discipleship. And yes, Paul does talk about discipleship here. But sometimes in zeroing in on this verse, we miss the broader context of this Pastoral Epistle. Paul, an apostle, is writing to Timothy, a pastor, about how to develop and defend a disciple making culture in his local church.
In 2 Timothy 2:3-7, Paul gives Timothy some principles that can serve as guardrails for developing and defending a disciple making culture in the local church.
Paul’s first encouragement to Timothy is to be single-minded like a soldier (2:3-4). He tells him to stay focused. Think about it. If a soldier is in battle and bullets are flying everywhere, what happens if he starts daydreaming? He dies. In the heat of battle, soldiers must stay focused if they want to survive. And Paul is telling Timothy the same thing. Stay focused. Keep your eyes on Christ. Be single-minded like a soldier.
The second encouragement is to be disciplined like an athlete (2:5). I once watched an interview with an Olympic track athlete who trained six hours a day, six days a week, for four years to run in a twelve-second race! How much more should we discipline ourselves for an eternal prize? How much more should we discipline ourselves to make disciples?
Paul’s final encouragement is to persevere like a farmer (2:6). I grew up in the city, so I don’t have much experience with farming. But from what I’ve learned from others, farming is slow work. You water your crops day after day, and guess what you see? Nothing! But you keep going until one day you see a little sprout pop up. And then you keep watering it and trying to protect it from the bugs, but all you can do is pray that it stays healthy and keeps growing.
How often do we persevere like that in our faith? Our flesh fights against us. We fear “wasting” our time. Why spend two years discipling someone who ends up joining another church because they didn’t like your band? Why invest in someone who is just going to leave?
Paul points to a different way. He says that we have to persevere like a farmer and pray for God to work. In our day and age, we have sprinkler systems that keep our gardens watered. But in that time, farmers did all the work of tilling the soil and planting the seeds, only to wait and see if God would send the rain. Discipleship is the same. It makes us wholly dependent on Him. We can labor and invest and pour ourselves out, but only God brings growth.
The bottom line is that you can plant a church and not make disciples. But if you make disciples, you will plant churches that will plant churches. This isn’t about drawing a big crowd. This is about being faithful to disciple the people God entrusted to you.
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